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Let’s Fix Radio or At Least Fix What We Can

There is a constant harping within the industry that we need to “fix radio” and we need to do it quickly. The response is usually that “we can’t afford to make the necessary changes.” That retort brings on a discussion about the length of commercial breaks. No one has the stomach to suffer short term financial losses for long-term gains. Local and private owners have the best opportunity to take that pain. Public companies aren’t going to show any more losses than what they’re showing or diminish gains that they’re projecting.

The most common failure that’s pointed out is that radio plays too many commercials. That’s a point that is inarguable. It’s also not a guaranteed “fix” for radio. If your content (music or spoken word) is poor, if you have weak or no air-talent, if your audio quality sounds inferior, and if your competition sounds noticeably better than your radio station, playing fewer commercials won’t save you. It just means we hear more of your weaknesses.

Our focus needs to be on those people who use the radio the most. That’s the “low hanging fruit” for radio. Be it your research or a listener advisory panel, respondents need to be users of radio, as those are the people who will participate in a rating survey. They’ve not abandoned radio as a first choice. A radio listener can and will react to what’s on-air. To convert a non-radio listener, or bring back a listener from off, you will need to have a significantly better product than your non-radio competitors and you have to market the stations benefit or uniqueness.

My intention going forward is to be on satisfying today’s radio listeners first. Stop the erosion. Build Time Spent Listening. Create word of mouth. Those three objectives are where I think we need to focus our attention. My intentions for podcasters is different. The focus there has to be on attraction to specific podcast episodes in a world that is cluttered and noisy.

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t strive to improve radio’s listening experience. To do that we have to play fewer commercials. We need to have better produced sounding commercials that employ high quality production is important, too. Create imaging for your station that reinforces your brand and presents a feeling of fantasy. Great imaging makes a station memorable. Pay attention to your digital stream so that it doesn’t have up-cut commercials and songs. Make sure your online automation doesn’t play the same commercials or PSA’s over and over again or back-to-back.

Be a part of the community that you’re in. Focus on what’s important to the people in your market and mirror their causes, cares, interests and activities. Track what’s trending in your local community and make that a part of the content you curate. If being local is an advantage, then talk about neighborhoods, local sports teams that include scholastic sports, announce community festivals and own the big events in your community. Radio’s advantage over everything else is local connectivity and the frequency with which you touch your community.

We’ve long known that if a personality can create a loyal following, it makes the station more resistant to competitors who want to out rate your station. Entertaining personalities can, and should, be considered for all dayparts. Talent who’ve built a following is the one thing that your competition, including those on other platforms like satellite and DSPs, cannot easily beat. They have to disrupt your programming to attract the attention of your followers. Acknowledge that on-air personalities are important to sales. Endorsements move products, sell services, grow customer bases and provide a warmth or depth to an advertiser’s product that is otherwise lost without a talent embracing it.

Answer the question; What are you known for as a radio station. Being top-of-mind is important if you want to score in the ratings, but it’s also important to win in the court of public opinion. The radio station that is most visible, providing you have great content, creates word of mouth. Word of mouth is still the #1 way that consumers learn of anything. It may have started with marketing, but when people see that marketing and tell someone about it, it spreads rapidly. Radio has a current day image that is better with listeners while tarnished beyond reality with advertisers. Being everywhere and being seen everywhere helps to overcome the image deficit of the medium. Being better on-air and motivating an audience to engage with an advertiser solves many of radio’s problems.

If you really want to “Fix Radio” quickly … start by focusing on those who listen to the radio and super serve them. It’s a heavy lift to try to create a new audience by attracting non-radio users. That’s where you focus once the erosion of audience has been stopped. Radio won’t be fixed with that focus, but it’s a start. We have to start somewhere.

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